So everyone was waiting for PM Narendra Modi’s Banka rally curious to know if he would say anything on Mohan Bhagwat’s comment on reservation and, more importantly if would react to Lalu Prasad’s overt attempt to play this election on rigid caste lines.
One could be disappointed with PM Modi for not making a great speech at Banka but this is what BJP think tank had intended – it had wanted to deflate the reservation and caste debate and bring it back to development. The Grand Alliance had attempted to make Lalu Prasad the main opponent of Modi but Modi wanted Nitish Kumar as his prime rival — and to engage in a debate on development with his dole-outs, facts and figures. The BJP might well be good at micro management on caste lines — it is lining up its star campaigners to address their constituencies on caste lines but it wants development topping the agenda.
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Here are the takeaways from the Banka rally – PM Modi smartly shunned the ‘reservation’ trap laid by Lalu. He leaves that for the state leadership and Amit Shah to play down. He chooses to target Nitish instead on ‘vikas.’ The PM intended to make all the ‘right’ noises on development with reminders of his special package. He also sought to rebuff Nitish on BJP trying to make it a “class” battle between the rich and the poor. The PM not only listed schemes for the poor but also asked his opponents why they could not think of pro-poor schemes like the Mudra loans and Beti Bachao and Beti Padhao schemes. The BJP has given a large number of tickets to upper caste candidates so it has to stress its pro poor agenda.
The BJP state unit has been following Modi’s development theme with several attractive schemes like a Scooty for girls and laptops for poor and talented students. It is BJP’s answer to Nitish Kumar’s seven-point resolution that promises student a credit card scheme and allowances to search for jobs.
Now, one waits to see what will be Lalu Prasad’s and Nitish’s next moves. To say that the electoral battle in Bihar is on the cusp of caste and development is to state the obvious.